#16: Me Imperturbe

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This week’s Whitman poem is called “Me Imperturbe.” I really liked this poem, so without further ado, let’s dive in.

  Me imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,
  Master of all or mistress of all, aplomb in the midst of irrational things,
  Imbued as they, passive, receptive, silent as they,
  Finding my occupation, poverty, notoriety, foibles, crimes, less
      important than I thought,
  Me toward the Mexican sea, or in the Mannahattan or the Tennessee,
      or far north or inland,
  A river man, or a man of the woods or of any farm-life of these
      States or of the coast, or the lakes or Kanada,
  Me wherever my life is lived, O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
  To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as
      the trees and animals do.

To me, this poem is exulting the Natural world. I imagine Whitman shedding his skin and floating down the Mississippi River rejoicing in nature. To Whitman, the man-made problems are entirely avoidable and useless products of our capitalist society, while the natural problems of storms and hunger are “true” issues that all flora and fauna face — we are all equal and in the same struggle in nature. I don’t think this poem is meant to be demeaning of very real issues in our lives (like poverty and crime rates, etc.). Instead, I think Whitman is gently reminding us to get outside of our own minds and look at the bigger picture. I found this poem both refreshing and freeing. This poem has inspired me to try to enjoy nature this week. Maybe I’ll take off my headphones while I walk through Central Park on my way home tonight.

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!

 

 

 

Vocab: -ocracies

Inspired by last night’s debate and a review of some word of the day entries, I present to you a list of -ocracies.

Add to the list in comments if there are any other good ones you know!

  • aristocracy – ruled by those born into a small, privileged class
  • autocracy – ruled by one self-appointed person
  • capracracy – (facetious) ruled by goats
  • corporatocracy – ruled by corporations, often private or with private components
  • epistemocracy – utopian government where those in government have ‘epistemic humility’ (epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge)
  • ethnocracy – ruled by representatives of ethnic groups and may hold more positions than is proportional to the population of the ethnic group
  • geniocracy – where problem-solving and creative intelligence are criteria for government officials
  • gynecocracy -ruled by women
  • kakistocracy – ruled by those least qualified
  • kleptocracy – government plagued by corruption and greed
  • kratocracy – ruled by those who seize power through force and cunning
  • kritocracy or krytocracy – ruled by judges
  • meritocracy – ruled by those who have demonstrated some applicable talent or ability
  • mobocracy or ochlocracy – ruled by the intimidation of a mob or mass
  • monocracy – ruled by an individual, not necessarily passed on to an heir, as with monarchy
  • panarchracy – government that encompasses all others
  • patriarchy – ruled by men
  • plantocracy – ruled by plantation owners
  • plutocracy – ruled by the wealthy
  • stratocracy – ruled by the army/armed forces
  • technocracy -ruled by technical experts, scientists
  • theocracy – ruled by a religious authority
  • timocracy – ruled by property owners

 

Review: Still Here, Lara Vapnyar

still here.jpgLara Vapnyar’s “Still Here” is a pretty hilarious story about four Russian immigrants in New York. There’s Vica and Sergey, who moved to New York shortly after they were married when Sergey received a scholarship to New York School of Business. There’s Vadik, who has struggled to find an identity that fits into New York City, and finally, Regina, who has married a wealthy American venture capitalist. Like all good books (and TV shows) about a group of friends, the friend group is pretty incestuous, Vica left Vadik for Sergey who was dating Regina at the time, etc.

There’s two topics that I always love reading about. First, since my parents immigrated to the US in the 80s, I really connect with books about the immigrant experience. Second, I love reading books that take place in New York City. It’s so much fun to see my city through someone else’s eyes. Vapnyar has some really hilarious and astute observations on living in New York, that I often found myself dog-earing pages and chuckling out loud.

It wasn’t her fault that she lived on Staten Island. Vica’s personality was pure Manhattan. It’s just that her financial situation wasn’t.

Vapnyar created some characters that are each unique, fully developed, and flawed. Her characters are insecure and trying to make a home for themselves in New York City, far away from home. I found myself identifying with some of the same insecure thoughts that Vica had, as she’s trying to figure out how to make friends at work and where to spend her free time. These were definitely somethings I’ve thought when I moved here for college almost ten years ago.

She hadn’t been to the Met in ages. You couldn’t consider yourself a refined and cultured person if you hadn’t been to the Met in ages, could you? But then did New Yorkers even go there? Tourists and art students went there, yes, but what about regular New Yorkers? Vica tried to think of the most cultured New Yorker she knew. Regina? Regina wasn’t a real New Yorker. Eden? No, Eden never went there. Both Eden and her husband had graduated from Harvard, so they didn’t have to go to the Met because they didn’t need to prove they were cultured.

Another thread that ties the four friends together is an idea for an app (who doesn’t think they have a Great App Idea?) called “Virtual Grave.” The premise of the app starts as a way to control your social media after your death. Throughout the book, we see each of the friends wrestle with the idea of mortality and how social media impacts our lives, from the facade of Facebook to the vicious cycles of online dating. While this is a timely topic, I think this is where the story fell a little flat. Given the prevalence of social media today, I don’t think a book can serve as a commentary on social media if it only looks at Facebook and Twitter. What about Instagram, Snapchat, Vine? The survey is a little incomplete and dated. Maybe Vapnyar intended to do this, as her characters are all in their late thirties, but if so, she didn’t convince me.

In the last chapter of the book, Vapnyar uses a really cheesy gimmick where the first two pages resemble a group chat, with profile pictures, emojis, and all. It gave me flashbacks to books I read in elementary school. I found this a really weak way to end the book, when this gimmick wasn’t used at all in the first 270+ pages. Overall, the book was a quick and enjoyable read, but I don’t think I’ll be adding Vapnyar to my list of favorite authors anytime soon.

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I would recommend this book to people who like reading stories set in New York City, people who watch romantic comedies anytime they’re on television, and people who are looking for a gateway into (albeit light) Russian literature.

  • I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

 

#15: To a Certain Cantatrice

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Here we go again, another Wednesday, another Whitman poem!

To a Certain Cantatrice --   
  Here, take this gift,
  I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or general,
  One who should serve the good old cause, the great idea, the
      progress and freedom of the race,
  Some brave confronter of despots, some daring rebel;
  But I see that what I was reserving belongs to you just as much as to any.

A cantatrice is a singer, usually an opera singer. However, the unnamed cantatrice isn’t the star of this poem. I think the focus of this poem is Whitman’s generosity with his “gift”. In this context, I think his gift is his poetry, his songs. In the same vein as “To Thee Old Cause,” Whitman doesn’t think poetry should be reserved for “the good old causes” or some Great idea. Instead, he believes in the democracy of poetry, that it should be accessible and open to all people, the Everyman, the every day unnamed singers out there.

I have been really enjoying the process of reading Leaves of Grass, because I know that I am part of Whitman’s target audience. Even though some of his poems have been a little obtuse to me (especially “Eidolons” — sheesh!) I have been able to persevere because I know that Whitman is trying to speak to me. His poetry isn’t going over my head intentionally, so it is a rather warm and welcoming feeling sinking into a new Whitman poem each week.

What other poets do you think are writing for the “Everyman”? Who are some of the most accessible and least pretentious poets that you admire? I’m already skipping a decade into the future and thinking about what other collections I should read.

As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!

 

 

Review & Discussion Guide: Without You There Is No Us, Suki Kim

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Without You, There Is No Us is the title of a romantic drama in the same vein as Me Before You. However, the reality is a little more without-yousinister. In fact, “without you, there is no us” is a lyric in a patriotic song about Kim Jong-Il. Suki Kim is a journalist who goes undercover as an Evangelical Christian undercover as a teacher at Pyong-Yang University of Science & Technology (“PUST”). She teaches English to the children of (we assume) North Korea’s elite for half a year and writes a book about it. The book is fascinating because there simply aren’t that many memoirs about North Korea.

Most of the things that frustrated me about the book are more indicative of the North Korean political climate rather than Kim’s writing or experience. There just simply aren’t that many facts, statistics, or events in the book. Not a lot happens to Kim, because North Korea is controlling all of her experiences within Pyong-Yang: from group field trips to go hiking in the mountains to grocery shopping at approved markets for foreigners. However, I think Kim could have filled in some of the gaps with the political history of Korea or the history of the Korean War. I understand that to protect some of the people she met in North Korea, she had to change names and facts, but with so little facts already in the book, this rescrambling of information made the book less substantive than its alleged tell-all on the elite of North Korea.

A small thing that drove me (and my book club) crazy was Kim’s insertion of her “Brooklyn lover” into her memoir. While I understand that she felt isolated and cut off from her friends and family while in North Korea, I didn’t buy this connection to an ex-boyfriend. I was much more interested in Kim’s family’s reaction to and estrangement from her time in North Korea. Kim’s stories about her family’s time in Korea during the Korean War was so interesting and powerful, that I felt a much stronger investment in those relationships than in this arbitrary one that flutters in and out of her mind throughout the book. Our book club thought perhaps this was just a symptom of her solitude in North Korea — nostalgia for old flames. While it may have been true, I think she (or her editor) should have pushed through this a little more to get to the truth behind her experience.

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#14: On Journeys Through the States

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You know the drill by now — week by week, I’m going through another Walt Whitman poem. Even though this is the 14th poem (3.5 months in!), we are only on the 8th page of the book! Phew, at this rate, we really do have another 130 months to go.

This one is called “On Journeys Through the States.” If you recall, the preceding poem was called “To the States” which sparked some debate about whether or not Whitman was racist.

  On journeys through the States we start,
  (Ay through the world, urged by these songs,
  Sailing henceforth to every land, to every sea,)
  We willing learners of all, teachers of all, and lovers of all.

  We have watch'd the seasons dispensing themselves and passing on,
  And have said, Why should not a man or woman do as much as the
      seasons, and effuse as much?

  We dwell a while in every city and town,
  We pass through Kanada, the North-east, the vast valley of the
      Mississippi, and the Southern States,
  We confer on equal terms with each of the States,
  We make trial of ourselves and invite men and women to hear,
  We say to ourselves, Remember, fear not, be candid, promulge the
      body and the soul,
  Dwell a while and pass on, be copious, temperate, chaste, magnetic,
  And what you effuse may then return as the seasons return,
  And may be just as much as the seasons.

Poetry Vocabulary Word of the Day:

Promulge (verb): an archaic variant of promulgate. Promulgate means to promote or make widely known.

So, here we are, still journeying through the States. I don’t have much to say about the poem this week. Whitman is travelling to all corners of the United States spreading the word of.. what? I think he’s spreading the news that the body is as important. He’s still sailing around on his book of a boat, singing these songs that are in Leaves of Grass. I like his advice to “be copious” — what a great turn of phrase! The last two lines of the poem end on such a nice idea of karma returning to us just like the seasons return.

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well! I think I’ll start to kick it up a notch with either a few poems a week, or I may start skipping some of the ones that aren’t very exciting to discuss (to me, at least!)

 

Infinite Jest – Vocabulary

Everyone knows how much David Foster Wallace loved the English language, right? Part of the journey of tackling Infinite Jest is looking up a few words per page. I’m only still about 130 pages in so far, but I wanted to share some of the best bits I’ve learned so far, but only from the first 10 pages.

  • Effluvium: ef·flu·vi·um (noun) – an unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge.

“We have an obligation, to ourselves, chiefly, to see what a brain, and particularly a brain like our own – that is, using the same effluvium we, too, swim through – is capable of.

  • Wen: wen (noun) – a boil or other swelling or growth on the skin, especially a sebaceous cyst.

I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, where there is a wen.

  • Actuate: ac·tu·ate (verb) – cause (a machine or device) to operate, cause (someone) to act in a particular way; motivate.

And in this new smaller company, the Director of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as both the Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he’d seemed at first, standing hip-shot with a hand on his wind, walking with a roll to his shoulders, jingling change as he pulls up his pants as he slides into the chair still warm from C.T.’s bottom, crossing his legs in a way that inclines him well into my personal space, os that I can see multiple eyebrow-tics and capillary webs in the oysters below his eyes and smell fabric-softener and the remains of a breath-mint turned sour.

  • Hirsute: hir·sute (adjective) – hairy

The patch itself he describes as horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red.

I think a few of these sample sentences really give you a taste for Wallace’s writing style, especially the sentence where he uses “actuate.” It’s been a real pleasure so far to trip over some of these sentences.

What are some of the books you’ve read which require a big dictionary every page or so? What are some of your favorite archaic words?